Indicating a hardening of resolve within the government, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said on Wednesdaythat PM Narendra Modi’s promise to punish those behind the Uri terror attack would not remain words. “Sometimes I can have a knee jerk reaction too. But we are a responsible nation,” he said.
India would not be deterred by Pakistan brandishing nuclear weapons, he added.
Parrikar’s remarks came after a meeting of the cabinet committee on security, which was chaired by Modi and held after a slew of military assessments of options amid a strong consensus in the BJP leadership that the Uri outrage must not go unpunished.
“…I don’t think the PM’s initial words that `those responsible will be punished’ will go as a mere statement. How to punish, that is for us to work out,” Parrikar said at an event here. The defence minister admitted there were lapses at the Army camp at Uri. “Obviously, something must have been wrong. I believe in zero-error,” he said, adding that the government would find out what went wrong in the camp’s security that led to the death of 18 soldiers, many in the blaze that consumed the tents they were sleeping in.
Parrikar’s comments and meetings of the CCS and the BJP core group point to intense deliberations in the government and party and indicate all options, indicating military ones, are open as it is being felt that inaction will only convince Pakistan that it can inflict deeper cuts in its proxy war against India. For a de-escalation, Pakistan would have to offer evidence of some serious and credible course corrections.
The government will not be averse to a diplomatic outcome if India’s intent to use force results in some clear gains, but the BJP brass is also clear that there must a demonstrable result in light of public anger running deep. The Uri incident — a near repeat of the attack on the Pathankot air force base— is seen as a challenge to Modi’s leadership as also BJP’s campaign on nationalist issues after the JNU sedition case and recent “tiranga yatras”.
In view of the challenges to the government and BJP, the mood in the ruling party has hardened and Parrikar’s comments indicate that some measures are in the works, even if the timing is not certain. It is felt that there are options that stop short of all out hostilities and escalation of conflict is not necessarily inevitable.
The coming days will see India take on Pakistan at the United Nations. The BJP national council, scheduled to be held in Kerala over the weekend, will see Modi address a public rally on Saturday and this might be the first time that he speaks at length on the Uri attack and the role of Pakistan. The BJP meet is expected to adopt “tough” resolutions on terrorism and Pakistan.
Parrikar dismissed Pakistan’s oft-repeated threat of being fully-prepared to use its 60-km Nasr missiles with subkiloton plutonium warheads as a counter to India’s conventional military superiority. “Empty vessels (like Pakistan) makes bigger noise. This country (India) is a very responsible power, but that does not mean I will sleep over this kind of terrorism that is being pushed from across. How do I do it is entirely for the government under the PM to decide,” he said. This comes after the Indian security establishment has provided the government with a variety of punitive but limited actions possible against Pakistan without actually going to war, which range from “surgical strikes” to “cross-border raids” by special forces or ghatak platoons of infantry battalions.
Parrikar also expressed concern over the serious security lapses that allowed the four terrorists to easily storm the Uri camp and kill as many as 18 Indian soldiers and injure over 20 others before they were gunned down on September 18.